A new international treaty on the Internet has failed to reach consensus. For those interested in keeping the Internet free of governmental interference, that's good news.
Two weeks ago, the World Conference on International Telecommunications opened in Dubai, with 193 countries in attendance, and it ended Friday. The countries are members of the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, and a key mission was to revise, if possible, an international treaty that had not been updated since 1988 -- before the World Wide Web.
But many of the countries attending, such as Russia, China and key Arab states, sought to ratify their governmental control of the Internet and to impose new powers. The U.S. and European nations led the fight to keep self-governance and free expression for the Net. Some European countries, however, sought to impose a destination fee on Web sessions, so that, like a phone call, networks would have to pay for the cost of routing content to its destination.
'Not Able to Sign'
The treaty that was eventually drafted was supported by 89 countries, but about 55 countries, including the U.S. and nearly two dozen other Western countries, did not vote. The remaining countries in attendance did not have enough rank in the organization to vote. For the treaty to have gone into effect worldwide, it needed the signatures of all voting countries.
The U.S. ambassador to the summit, Terry Kramer, told news media that his country's position was that "Internet policy should not be determined by member states, but by citizens, community and broader society."
He added that it's "with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in its current form."
Other countries will sign the treaty, but it will have little force with so many missing signatures. One South American delegate, however, told Reuters news service that there could be "some legal concerns" between countries that have and haven't signed the treaty. Others suggested it might increase the possibility of a more fragmented Internet.
The U.S. and other non-signing countries said they will continue to press at other international meetings for what they describe as a "multi-stakeholder model," which would formally give a large role to groups from private industry and those representing users.
Kramer told news media that he and others in his alliance had negotiated in good faith, but that various provisions were, essentially, show-stoppers. One section, for instance, attempted to deal with the explosion of spam e-mails by relying heavily on governmental monitoring. Another section would have given countries the ability to administer Web site addresses, which now is governed by independent, private groups set up for that purpose.
In addition to the U.S. and most Western European countries, the non-signatories included Canada, the Philippines, Poland, Egypt, Kenya and the Czech Republic.